Ultimately, Front Porch Forum‘s biggest impact is the one-two punch of increasing people’s social capital and civic engagement. Put another way, once FPF catches hold in an area, the folks who live there become more connected with neighbors and more involved in their community. Indeed, one survey found 93% of FPF members reporting increased civic engagement since joining their neighborhood forum.
Well, it turns out that “civic engagement” is a robust field, full of think tanks, academics, consultants, and the like. And, given President Obama’s call for community involvement, many of these players have come together to get organized… to try to seize this rare opportunity to advance the state of U.S. civic engagement… to take a leap forward.
In practice, people emphasize or apply these principles in many different ways, and often embrace additional principles. These seven principles reflect the common beliefs and understandings of those working in the fields of public engagement, conflict resolution, and collaboration.
1. Careful Planning and Preparation
Through adequate and inclusive planning, ensure that the design, organization, and convening of the process serve both a clearly defined purpose and the needs of the participants.
2. Inclusion and Demographic Diversity
Equitably incorporate diverse people, voices, ideas, and information to lay the groundwork for quality outcomes and democratic legitimacy.
3. Collaboration and Shared Purpose
Support and encourage participants, government and community institutions, and others to work together to advance the common good.[A]
4. Openness and Learning
Help all involved listen to each other, explore new ideas unconstrained by predetermined outcomes, learn and apply information in ways that generate new options, and rigorously evaluate public engagement activities for effectiveness.
5. Transparency and Trust
Be clear and open about the process, and provide a public record of the organizers, sponsors, outcomes, and range of views and ideas expressed.
6. Impact and Action
Ensure each participatory effort has real potential to make a difference, and that participants are aware of that potential.
7. Sustained Engagement and Participatory Culture
Promote a culture of participation with programs and institutions that support ongoing quality public engagement.
[A] In addition to reflecting the democratic ideals of liberty, justice, and freedom for all, the term “common good” refers to things that optimize the well-being of all (like a traffic light in a dangerous intersection) or conditions that serve to benefit all involved (as in a consensus agreement focused on cleaning up the water supply).
An interesting footnote…
A note about technology: We believe the use of technology should be generally encouraged whenever appropriate to enhance and not impede these seven values — and also that these seven principles apply to both online and offline efforts to engage the public. However, there is not yet consensus in our field on standards for the use of technology that would warrant the inclusion of specific online or electronic guidelines in this document.
Some people dream of living in communities where children pop in and out of one another’s houses, where adults gather on front porches for riveting conversations, where gardeners trade bounty over back fences.
Others don’t want that much closeness.
But most of us would like more than just a nodding acquaintance with neighbors.
What seems to have been easy and natural decades ago, when mothers were home and kids played outside for hours, takes a bit more effort today. That’s especially true when there’s no organization such as a homeowners association to get things started.
Sure, we’re all busy, but other factors can hinder neighborliness.
People drive into their garages, close the door automatically, then proceed inside.
Some houses are set back from the street, with only long driveways bridging the gap. Others sit along busy streets with no sidewalks, so strolling the neighborhood is not an option.
And as we come and go, we are often focused more on hand-held electronic devices than on our surroundings.